Cities of Modernity

Owing to recent employment-related changes, the RIBA building on Portland Place is now only an invigorating 13-minute walk from work. Their Tuesday Lates are pretty good events (I still need to write about the most recent one), whereas last night was a one-off related to the current Mackintosh exhibition. On the way there I planned to buy a meal-replacing naughty flapjack, but the main counter in the shop was unmanned. At the rear of the shop, there was someone who would cheerfully fiddle with your phone, for money, not that this was a service I required. Hmmph. Nak’d bar it was then, for pre-talk sustenance.

The title of the evening was “Modernity: European Art and Architecture 1880-1914”, making it a real-life compressed equivalent of the series Alistair Sooke presented, at least the Vienna edition. The RIBA building itself is always an Art Deco treat. What I haven’t managed is to see the current exhibition yet – there’s still a month remaining. At the entrance to the lecture theatre we were given surprise gifts, which didn’t include a companion to the free Tunnock’s Caramel wafer of a few weeks ago, sadly.

The first speaker, Alan Powers, covered Glasgow. He explicitly didn’t have too much to say about Charles Rennie Mackintosh, covering instead people I didn’t know about such as John James Burnet and James Salmon, showing photos of their buildings. One painting he displayed depicted a “Whistlerian view” (Whistler was mentioned again during the panel) while another showed the “thrumming” of Glaswegian industry. The Glaswegian architects were clearly aware of contemporary work in Chicago, he claimed, and he noted that one of the prime motivations in the city was to rival Edinburgh, contests with London and other cities being of secondary importance. Some of the buildings he described had been demolished, but the striking Templeton Carpet Factory by William Leiper remains, and I’ll definitely try to find it the next time I’m up there.

Next came Vienna, its advocate being Daniel Snowman. He concentrated on Viennese culture, though he did point the importance of the demolition of the city walls and their replacement by the Ringstrasse, with buildings of wildly varying styles appearing along its route. He referred to the risk of “ghastly Schrammel musicians entertaining you” and then stressed the importance of the Secession movement. Writers such as Hofmannstahl and Schnitzler were among many working in Vienna, which he described as a “self-regarding and incestuous world”, riven with “very trendy suicides”, all to be destroyed by Gavrilo Princip.

Barcelona was described by Greg Votalato. His first photo showed the development of the Eixample area, with the internal courtyards of the buildings and the practicality of the chamfered corners, so designed as to allow the large trams to turn around corners. He sought to link commerce and culture in the city, noting parallels between the vertical crypts of the Montjuic cemetery and the modern ubiquity of shipping containers in the port. Gaudi was described, of course, but he stressed that many of his famous buildings were the result of collaborations with people whose importance tended to be ignored. Finally he posited a thread between the architecture of that period and the later International Style.

The final advocate was Stephen Smith, talking about Paris. I’d particularly enjoyed his BBC Four series about Art Nouveau and he covered some of the same ground here. (I still want to visit a chapel or building he mentioned in this series, somewhere in Surrey (?), but stupidly I didn’t make a note at the time – the Watts Chapel?). Ever keen teasingly to leap between High and Low culture, he said that while the evening wasn’t a competition, nevertheless his team of “galacticos” would triumph – Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, Seurat, Degas etc. The eleventh player was Gertrude Stein, as much for her stimulating effect on other artists as her own writing (in the panel discussion later, Greg Votalato emphasised her importance, even if her books weren’t particularly readable). He extolled Cezanne’s “matchless pippins” and went on to talk about Art Nouveau, with the repeating images of dragonflies and metamorphosis. Mackintosh himself moved to France, as support of her thesis, and he wondered whether Nicola Sturgeon would campaign to retrieve his ashes for the Nation. Castel Beranger felt like something “built by swarms of bees driven mad by Royal jelly”, perhaps as a result of the curators’ over-eager buffing. As in the programme, he lamented the demolition of most of the extravagant Metro entrances, which were described in Modern Architecture magazine as a combination of “rational planning, to non-rational intent”.

All the speakers formed a panel on stage, considering questions such as which contemporary cities might be included in a modern list, and whether the indeed the nature of culture still supported such physical foci of endeavour. London was defended as somewhere that could have been included in the original list, and in an updated one, with the warning that artists are being priced out. Diaghilev’s ballet was cited as a potent “carrier of culture”, during the discussion about the extent to which the turn of the century artists/architects were aware of developments around the world, while EasyJet and Airbnb are “key enablers of cultural production” today. Alan Powers stressed the need to differentiate between “modernity” and “modernism”, and he mentioned E. W Godwin, who was a new figure to me. The final audience participant said that Glasgow could be included as a city with great cultural importance today, which led one panellist to feel sad about the changes in UK art education, which is now largely restricted to the wealthy.

The speakers were entertaining and clearly knowledgeable, and I now have a small list of new things to see and people to investigate, which is a good test of an evening expedition.


Do You Know What?

There are so many lazy/malign rhetorical crutches these days, the main question seems to be whether they are Verboten or merely suitable for the Lexemic Holding Pen. One that has breached my tolerance threshold lately is the self-avowedly apology-free auto-embrace of:

Do you know what?

as in

Do you know what? I like Deacon Blue. I think they’re a great band.

(the latter an old TMWRNJ favourite, of course)

The speaker is indicating that they’re going to shock the listener slightly with their abrasive candour, with the iconoclastic verity of their insight, but they’re not going to hold back, they’re going to press on with their dismaying revelation. Watch out, because there’s an existential risk for your assumptions and your shibboleths.

This fake candour will not stand, this invidious confessionistic urge.

Post-penultimate post

Still catching up on the fag end of 2014, we find ourselves admiring the coordination of two Chinese ladies on the Central Line, who were wearing exactly the same grey boots with fur trims. We’re on our way to Osborne Samuel for the last day of The Photographers 2014. It seems to be in the spirit of The Illustrators, that I saw around Christmas 2012, a very different time. Apparently, there had been difficulties with the permissions for some Cartier-Bresson works, but they’ll have a show by him in 2015 anyway. Other people were partly appraising based on price and whether the photos fitted in with what they had in mind for *a particular space*:

“That’s how I want our house to look.”

It’s perhaps simpler to admire what was on show at Osborne Samuel, with the patina of history and canonisation, (e.g. Girls in Windows New York, 1960) than the much more recent works at Beetles + Huxley itself, though there was lots to appreciate there, too. My favourites were Alex Maclean’s aerial views and Michael Najjar’s Netropolis. Every time I go there I’m re-irritated by my being too late in attending the Martin Parr show about the people in the BBC2 programme of people showing off their homes to pick up a copy of the catalogue, in the 1990s. Modern Times – that’s it, which has just been resurrected. There’s a link with all the photos here.

Something of a change of pace at the Royal Academy for Giovanni Battista Moroni, which I was seeing with unusual prescience, a whole month before it closed. A daughter was walking around explaining the context of some of the paintings to her mother and at one point, with some relish, she described that one had been commissioned by a “society of flagellants”. The first thing that I noticed was the way that he seamlessly integrated the content of religious visions with portraits and landscapes – just garden variety saints or martyrs lolling about. As I think has been well recorded, he captured the foibles and weaknesses of those he was painting, the rough edges of their characters, beyond any neat image they might have wished to project. One young woman looked back at us most censoriously, while an older woman appeared to be a real sternchops. He also departed from the usual strict formality of the occasion, including the depiction of the magistrate, who looked like he’d just popped around for a portrait. Some of the use of colour stood out, including a painting of a woman in a red dress that I’d seen before in the show about colour at the National Gallery, the odd pink of St Catherine’s shawl which shimmered as you moved around, and the yellow-orange loincloth in his crucifixion. One of the blurbs referred to

“Apotropaic powers”,

not a concept I knew before. Sometimes I need to be lulled into appreciating these Old Master Types, but not with Moroni.

That evening was The Grandmaster at Curzon Soho, which had the moments of visual beauty you’d expect from Wong Kar Wai, but was rather incoherent. Apparently the edit that’s distributed in the West is much inferior to the original one. What he’s produced since 2046 has been disappointing, generally.

After a hiatus of a few days, known for its festivity, I went back to see the remainder of Constructing Worlds at the Barbican. The first visit had been a free members’ private view, when I’d invited along a friend, and we’d listened to Owen Hatherley, one of the Owens I always confuse, the other being Owen Jones. That time I mostly looked downstairs, whereas this time, without the need to rush, I followed the approved scheme, which was to start upstairs then make your way around and down.

Berenice Abbott’s Night View seemed very familiar and I wondered whether it had been in The Photographers. Someone around me referred to the “total absence of curves”. One photo by Walker Evans also reminded me of another US Depression-era item in The Photographers. People do get around. Julius Shulman’s capturing of the Case Study House Program caused a flicker in my mind about satires on that programme that I’d seen at Tate Liverpool, possibly during the Triennial, spiced with a hint of Jacky Treehorn’s house in the Big Lebowski. His collection includes that view of Los Angeles spreading out down below that’s part of all our visual inheritance, even if we’ve never been there. Lucien Hervé’s views of Le Corbusier’s buildings in Chandigarh were especially good.

At this point I realised I had a very different impression of the exhibition than during the private view event. It felt a lot more substantial, and less gimmicky. Definitely worth the second visit that my Barbican membership afforded.

Extolling car parks seems like a beyond-cliché position to adopt, but Ed Ruscha’s aerial photo of the parking around the Dodgers’ stadium transformed it into an ornate flower or alien creature, while conveying the ridiculous amount of space needed for the cars, compared with the actual working space of the baseball field.

Bernd and Hilla Becher were also famously concerned with superficially mundane structures. I’d seen a show of theirs at Sprüth Magers a few months earlier, accompanied by the chants of a demonstration in the street outside. In this case there was a collection of their photos of water towers, with an incredible diversity of form, situation and location. One was even in someone’s back garden.

Recognise administrative beeps and noises of different venues eg walkie-talkie noises of staff
I liked the fervid pragmatism of the Bellevue church in Alberta, as captured by Stephen Shore, with the sign:

“Drive safely – drive with God”

Moving downstairs, one of the most impressive sets was from Nadav Kander, capturing the bleak transience of architectural change in China, such as the burnt-out monument to peace and prosperity. A short time before coming to this exhibition I’d read an article in the New Yorker (a few months out of date, as usual) about the men who recycle rubbish in Cairo, and Bas Princen had a picture of that very area. Guy Tillim was one of the photographers whose work I remembered from the curtailed first visit and it was just as powerful this time, bringing to mind the shattered optimism of the play A Season in the Congo, that I’d been fortunate to see at the Young Vic, and the Afro-Futurism that featured in one of the Deutsche Borse prize shows at the Photographers’ Gallery.

While the more arch photos downstairs left me sternly unmoved, overall I do think this was one of the best shows of the year. There’s a selection of photos taken from it on the Guardian, as well as two proper reviews, from professional people who write such things properly.

At this rate, I’m not sure when I will have caught up with the dense end of last year.

The Numbers Do Count

At one point I thought I was surging forwards as a Quantified Self, but measuring Culture, rather than Steps or Miles or Quads or Repetitions or Thrusts or Jabs or Dancersizes. The point not being the numbers themselves, the point being to See, as some say this week, All The Things. What I’d been most ashamed of in past life phases was my relative lack of reading. As we know from last time, in 2013 I read 47 books. In 2014, the number of books was smaller – just 40. Last year I was challenged to track this more closely. While in 2013, there was one very long book – Don Quixote – in 2014 I managed The Man Without Qualities (1,130 pages) (even though some think you shouldn’t bother with the later parts), John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. (1,184 pages) and A House For Mr. Biswas (640 pages), which were all Substantial. What I can’t yet provide is an indication of how long it takes to read a different author’s words themselves. I think we can say, Not Bad, and I’m back up to 9 books out of the local library, which is healthy.

Some people think I’m only interested in films, having seen 113 in 2013. Unable to contradict their assertions with any great force, I saw 148 in 2014. This is, of course, slightly short of the magic figure of 3 films a week. Even with the benefits of my various memberships and their concomitant free showings, it’s difficult to imagine being able to see any more in a year, both temporally and financially.

Theatre remains problematic in its availability, with the middle-class mafia slurping up all the tickets as soon as they’re announced, it seems. Nevertheless, I saw 20 plays in 2014, up from 11 in 2013, and explored some venues new to me.

Comedy suffered a slight decline, from 22 in 2013 to 18 in 2014, several of these being Stewart Lee and Tim Key. This may be caused by increasing frustration with the danger of repetition when you become addicted to work-in-progress showings (that are cheaper and feel more Pro).

The biggest change is in what we daintily call Art. In 2013 I saw 107 Art things, whereas in 2014 I saw 290. This suggests much travelling around Ludicrous London at the weekend, working that annual travelcard as hard as it will go. Sadly my efforts haven’t yet attracted patronage from Nicholas Serota.

Music is harder to track than other forms of culture, or perhaps I’m just not subscribed to the right feeds yet. The number of gigs has stayed exactly the same in 2014 at 26, 20 of them falling in the second half of the year.

The underlying impulse is, I think, to appease my mid-teenaged self, watching Film Masterclasses on Channel Four and occasionally lingering in Cornerhouse. From this perspective, I’ve seen Einstürzende Neubauten at last, and Edwyn Collins.

A more proximal impulse is justifying the many vexations of The Smoke, and I think I’m continuing to manage that.

Phone Lekking

Your Man used to save up for his XR3i, to sate his inner needs and display his fitness to females. More recently these displays have been found in simple externalities – clothes, shoes, teeth, watches. The ubiquity of portable devices has rendered the quality null from the perspective of mate discrimination – there’s no real exclusivity to be had. However, I think I’ve seen what you might call behavioural lekking, emerging during very specific circumstances on public transport (always the crucible of these things).

The phenomenon I have in mind is the Phone Call as Display. Owing to the parsimony of our Victorian tunnelers, these calls can only transpire above ground, so in my case that means from Leyton onwards, when travelling home. What you can achieve is to take advantage of the oppressive broadcasting of a phone conversation in a Tube carriage to highlight your dynamism, as well as your resources. The occasion that prompted this thought was a Sunday night. Three mid-teenage girls boarded and behaved as they might. On my left was a man with facial topiary and tattooed arms, highlighting polite rebellion. His call weaved around various transactions he was engaged in, perhaps involving the purchase of a car. It was going to be “About £1,800”. He may have been a DJ of some sort, because he referred to a “party in Brighton” that he had coming up next weekend. It seemed to me that the girls sitting opposite were the third, silent interlocutor for him, as he impressed on them his significance and prowess, while negotiating the hierarchy with his remote male conversational partner. It’s a Performance, quite different in kind than the blithe callousness of the Business dialogues that you hear, expressing incredulity that “they’ve already scheduled a meeting for next February” (one I heard on Eurostar last night). The latter cases express a desire to speak orthogonally to the neighbouring travellers, while the Brighton £1,800 man uses the hook of the quotidian transaction to entice and impress them.

It’s much more efficient than collecting twigs.

Final day prequel sequel

Following some excursions and other days, the next event was Tim Key’s Father Slutmas, the second year running that I’d seen his Festivus show. This time it was at the Arts Theatre, the lobby of which grew remarkably crowded while we waited for the auditorium to be prepared. That seems to be the pattern at this venue. Daniel Kitson nonchalantly came up to collect his ticket. In fact, during the show, there was apparently Someone Famous a few rows from the front, to which Key referred, but I didn’t recognise them. The victim in the audience who was invited onto the stage was particularly keen and compliant, if indeed he was genuine. Key still does the best shouting of any comedian. At TCR, a rather drunk person was very pleased with her feeding of the mice on the tracks. On the train itself, some women were lamenting the lack of essence in their phones:

“What kind of bar doesn’t have a charger? 1% battery”.

I think they were trying to record the number of a potential gentleman caller.

“I might as well have a land line”.

A day later I saw Alice Neel at Victoria Miro Mayfair. Not really to my taste, in spite of the feline subjects, though it was interesting to see the changes in her style over the years, the progression towards stronger, thicker lines. Not too far away was the Carroll/Fletcher Project Space, for Uncertain Identities. My favourite piece here was The Conductor’s Fear of the Soloist – Ten Small Pieces for Violin, a video showing downstairs on two screens at a right-angle. The sang-froid of the violinist, keeping alive in the middle of the road while playing his music, was very impressive. Some of the people driving and walking past barely noticed him, untroubled by a mid-tarmac musician, while others stared and recorded. No one, in the sections I saw, engaged with him. On the other screen, the traffic was in a genuine gridlock, worthy of Jacques Tati.

To what we can only call Islington the following day, for the other Victoria Miro gallery. There were some pumpkins by Yayoi Kusama outside, attracting methodical attention by Japanese tourists:

External installation at Victoria Miro

Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin at Victoria Miro

Next to it was James Clar’s installation celebrating 10 years of Parasol Unit:

James Clar - All Everything

Outdoor installation at Parasol Unit

Back inside, the collage-paintings of Wangechi Mutu were very dense and at first I resisted them. Looking more closely, I liked the way she was using materials, such as a flower composed of insects, pearls, feathers and snake skins (while disapproving, faintly). The video upstairs was very cleverly done, with its reversed movements. One of the reliable pleasures here is the comments book. Someone who taught African Studies realised as a result of seeing Mutu’s work that the course was very male-dominated:

“Seeing these feminine centred evocations of Gikuyu mythology and blackness more generally is just so beautiful and evocative and inspiring. I can’t thank you enough for producing this work.”

Someone else said that the “creature gave me goosebumps”.
That morning while travelling I read an article in an old New Yorker about Eric Fischl’s paintings of attendees at private views and art fairs, and he had a show in the remaining Victoria Miro space. One of the male figures was reminiscent of Alan ‘Botney’ Yentob, but perhaps that was just a coincidence. Fischl’s contempt for his subjects was hilarious, including the superimposition of a skull. Again the comments revealed people’s appreciation.

Eric Fischl comments

Comments book for Eric Fischl

That evening, an old lady at a bus stop in Kilburn queried my Parasol Unit bag:

“Parasol? Parasol? Is Polish?”

The next day began with a trip to the Work Gallery, for After the flash, which explored the imagery of the Atomic Age. It conveyed a sense of the American feeling of power and plenitude in the 1950s, as well as the banality of the secret projects that sought to maintain and extend that power. Also prominent was the remarkable complacency and nonchalance with which they plundered the environment, and the unlikely glamour of atomic weaponry. There was a photo of some Teddy boy types with their molls, lolling about in the desert, attracted perhaps by a bomb test. Apparently a man who had worked at Sellafield came to the show and was talking about the changes at the site compared with the cheery postcard from the 1950s. There’s a good write-up of the show, with lots of photos, including some from the associated book, here. It reminded me that I need to read the Command and Control book that I bought with book tokens in Christmas 2013.

Over to Soho for the inconspicuous Anthony Reynolds gallery and their show What’s In and What’s Not, an interestingly varied group show, then Mayfair for the Timothy Taylor gallery, only to find that it was closed, owing to “construction works”. Tsk. At least that freed some time for Gerhard Richter show at the Marian Goodman gallery, again the last day, which meant it was quite crowded. These were mostly fairly recent works, rather different than the large retrospective I’d seen at Tate Modern a few years ago. At first I was rather wary of the squashed-behind-glass paintings, but I did warm to them when I spotted wrinkles caused by the squashing, and when some of them came to resemble cross-sections of cells, with stretched blobs and holes. There was a member of staff with a trolley on which a laptop was perched, and some tools. He was checking one of the paintings in a way that seemed quite mysterious, and his presence was sufficiently noteworthy that people were taking photos of him rather than the painting itself. Observing my own reactions, it became clear that the mood of the coloured line paintings was altered by the varying prevalence of the collections of stripes – some of the conjunctions sang, while others were mute.

Gerhard Richter

There was another series of rather small landscapes which Richter had defaced/improved with very clever smudges and smears, making people smile as they realised what was happening.


Someone was escorted out of the building while I was there, saying

“How silly, not painting anything”.

Flickr album of Gerhard Richter at Marian Goodman

Final destination for the day was the BFI, for Another Earth, part of their Sci-Fi season. In contrast to some, I don’t shy away from buses, this time the 139. A pensioner commiserated with the driver, who had to cope with dilatory West End crowds, as well as the sluggish traffic. However, she rescinded her sympathy later when there was some confusion over whether the destination of the bus had changed or not. Eventually the bus did “terminate” early and people alighted forlornly, cursing the driver, who will have been told to do so by his Controllers, with their plans for the Greater Good. The film itself was open to charges of melodrama (not always a bad thing) and predictability, though with an unusually deft and satisfying ending.

There was more to see on Sunday, starting with Nathan Eastwood at the Nunnery Gallery, where I’d enjoyed the East London Group of Artists show in the summer. It also feels more virtuous to support a venue that’s at least vaguely local, instead of the usual trek into the Big Bad Centre. Because it was the last day, the artist himself was there, talking to someone who I think must have been a journalist or another member of the Art World. He said he was particularly interested in “social realism” and that he didn’t like having titles by his works (on the walls of the gallery), because they detracted from the visual effect. All of them had been painted specifically for this show, and he said he’d been inspired by seeing works by George Shaw several years ago. He also didn’t like having blurbs:

“Don’t explain everything”.

Because of this I was free to impose my own explanations, one of the paintings looking to me like the fractured ending of a residents’ meeting for a housing association, if such things still exist.

Onwards, onwards, to the Estorick Collection in Islington, for the final day of Roman Ostia. Free entry with my Art Fund card – opposite of tsk. This was a combination of ancient and modern, with some good abstract sculptures and lovely, sinister mosaics. I hadn’t seen the serrated card technique used by Umberto Mastroianni before, which is always good, though in the end most of the results were rather ugly (not always a bad thing). Amongst the frescoes on display, most of which were damaged, a woman’s eyes stood out, transcending the coarse medium.


Flickr album of Roman Ostia at the Estorick Collection.

Post-penultimate stop for the day was the ICA. For once I was a little early for my film, so I went into their “poundshop”, where I bought some Christmas-related item that I don’t think I used in the end. The film was Manakamana, which I think I’d made a note of from trailers a few months previously. It’s a wonderful example of that fixed situation genre, in this case a camera within cable cars going up from a village to a temple in Nepal and back again. There’s no voiceover, so you have to work out the relations between the occupants yourself. At first it’s unclear whether people even know each other, or whether they’ve been forced to co-habit for reasons of cable car efficiency. The first duo didn’t say a single word during the whole trip, while one of the following women declared:

“I’m not really a foothills person”.

Quite. In one case, the breathing of a wife was very prominent – I think she was rather anxious, being suspended that high up. Many people referred to the sal forest that they pass en route, one person extolling how good the corn is that’s grown there. The journeys we share with them take on a soothing rhythm, punctuated by sounds in the blackness at the end, as the car turns around inside the station, ready for the next ascent/descent. One group of young band members was particularly garrulous, full of their minutely-defined and ever-changing hierarchies.

“Nature is a flower pot for the cable car”,

said one, while another, who was hosting a very young kitten, said that they should grow out its hair, to match their own. At various points the car passes close to towers around which people cluster, and this group of musicians was jeered by such a group, perhaps because of their identifying haircuts.

A couple of women had ice creams, the results of which were that they fell into giggles, seemingly having forgotten any ice cream techniques they might once have known:

“We’re eating like children”.

One women travelling on her own had some flowers, and these seemed to be the cause of her beaming smile, emerging after shyness. Not quite so happy were the goats, tricked into a cable car journey, tied together no doubt very quickly so they were awkward and in each others’ way. Their car was rather more spartan, open to the air, and they showed their sincere fear in cycles during the ascent, the bleating possibly stimulated by the fact that the more exposed cars let in the sounds of the mechanism more strongly.

What a beautiful film.

Final day flurry

Alliteration always adds to the sense of quality. In this case, it’s the final day of the year and my usual eventuality of seeing things on their last day. In that spirit I need to complete the description of recent activities before I compare 2014 with 2013. There isn’t much time before the final expedition of the year, so this will be a more concise enumeration than normal. [hmm]

Taking advantage of a fortuitous geographical proximity, I went to the Eel Pie Island open studios the day after the previous episode’s events. Once again someone thought I might be a photographer by reason of my Man Bag. It did indeed contain a camera, though I don’t claim any such profession.

“I’ve got my land, all I need is a shovel”

was one overheard snippet, indicating that penury isn’t necessarily rife in that area, while one of the artists was able to declaim that he and his wife

“live in the Love Shack”.

I always enjoy talking to the artists at open studios, nevertheless feeling a bit guilty that I’m only able to talk and not buy, unless there’s a comfortably priced trinket.

This was the best opportunity to see the latest show at Kristin Hjellegjerde in Wandsworth. It was one of those where you needed to persist beyond your initial impression, allowing appreciation to bubble up in your mind. My favourite pieces included Outi Pieski’s Gorge and Goddess Uksáhkká at Liŋkin Marsh, while the two that stood out by Monica Canilao were This Moment Crystalized and Birds Eye (link to catalogue with compressed images). Londonist listed this as their favourite independent gallery of the year, catching up eventually with the vanguard like me.

Following this it was to the South Bank, where I wandered around the Star Wars display at the BFI, which is focused on the person in charge of continuity. The early evening appointment was for the Radiophonic Workshop performing live in NFT1. The sedate mucking about of the Radiophonic people was a refreshing change and they seemed to be having as good a time as the audience, which often isn’t the case. From there, a brisk journey back over the river to the ICA to see Blind Chance, sadly the only part of the Krzysytof Kieslowski retrospective that I managed to catch. As you’d expect, it made the films that took the same idea (Run Lola Run and Sliding Doors) look rather shabby, even with the parochial points about the Polish political situation Kieslowski was making.

“I keep losing my sparkling water. Every time I buy one I lose it. “

lamented one attendee. Ah – but was it petulant or gassy?

The next day started with a schlep to Southwark Park for Dilston Grove, one of my favourite venues. Having seen Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair at the Barbicanin the summer, talking about their project to recreate the poet John Clare’s odyssey from Epping Forest, I was very keen to see their progress. Here was an installation, including texts related to the film, costumes and a projection of one edit at the far end. The straw man costume was there, uninhabited, with some of its straw essence spilling across the floor; a portent. I agreed with the person who wrote in the comments book that the additions by Kötting’s daughter Eden completed the effect. It was only by going to this that I was reminded of the performances they were giving, including one the next day at the Battersea Arts Centre. The sister venue in the park is the Café Gallery, which was holding its 30th annual open exhibition. A piece with an automatic hammer was operating itself too quickly, which was the cause of some angst amongst the staff. I wondered about the missing piece by Robin Klassnik, of Matt’s Gallery (another of my favourites), which just had the words

“Thank you, removed”

on the wall. Hmm. Other notable pieces for me were by Sharon Kivland and Vivien Harland. It’s always been worth the trek there so far. Finally that day I saw Stations of the Cross at the ICA, just as beautifully full of grief and rapture as I’d been expecting.

Thanks to the Dilston Grove visit, I went to the Battersea Arts Centre to see the performance associated with By Our Selves the next day. This consisted of a film showing, with other performances and readings interspersed, Iain Sinclair acting as our guide. He wore a goat mask, while others wore their own, including an owl. In the film itself Toby Jones is perfect as John Clare, the man troubled beyond his body, conveying this without any dialogue. Andrew Kötting disappeared then returned (inevitably) as the straw man, losing his essence as he danced, his existence bringing about his own destruction. The fragile power of the singing woman was very affecting, playing the piano listlessly with a single hand. I will definitely be seeing the film when it’s released theatrically.

Owing to my own listlessness, I had failed to book a 70mm screening of 2001 at the BFI, meaning I had to settle for 35mm. Tsk. When I took my seat the day after the By Our Selves performance, the man next to me, who I suspect might have seen it when it came out in 1968, said:

All aboard, now we can take off.

In fact there was a lot of angst caused by late arrivals and people in the wrong seats. Non-regular attenders perhaps – who knows how their minds work. There isn’t much I can say about 2001, other than that I was just as impressed as when I last saw it at the cinema, Cornerhouse in 2001. Some people afterwards were judging with anachronistic eyes:

How many product placements did you see? Did you see what was written on the socks?

while others were exclaiming simply “Oh God”.

The next morning, there was a long snake of schoolkids proceeding towards my local station in the morning, and I could see fellow commuters speeding up, trying to ensure that they could board a train before this monster reached the platform. I’d booked a free members’ preview ticket for the Mirrorcity show at the Hayward Gallery that evening. On the way, some people wearing dinner jackets and evening gowns on the District Line discussed “Tube golf”, which appeared to involve running between train and platform or something.

“That’s a par 5”

etc. An alpha among the group turned on a struggling beta with the dismissive comment that he

“knows all the stations”.

There two people leading guided tours of Mirrorcity, which were worthwhile, but overall there was nowhere near enough time to see everything that evening. especially the longer video pieces such as the Susan Hiller upstairs. What I did enjoy that night was Lindsay Seers’ projected film on concave and convex balls inside the hull of an upturned ship, Tim Etchells’ text-based political slogans and distorted stories, and Concrete Gown for Immaterial Flows by Pil and Galia Kollectiv, which is a physical manifestation of financial plots and charts. Because I went again more recently to see the rest of it, I’ll save further comment for when I’ve caught up (if ever…)

Back to the ICA for the third time that week the next day, for the latest A Nos Amours screening, in their dogged Chantal Akerman retrospective. There was a Contemporary Art Society event happening at the same time, which led to some queue-related angst. Indeed, some presumptuous Art-world people tried to push in, and were rebuffed. This time it was for Nuit et Jour, just as subversive as ever, in spite of what compared to some of her other films appeared like an unusually domestic premise, at first. The man who introduced it, Olaf Möller was hilarious. (People behind me were discussing the pronunciation of his name beforehand, one of them adding that they were going to hold a “Swedish party” in their flat.) He started by referring to one of the previous screenings, which I’d also seen, Histoires d’Amérique. To his mind, this was

“What Woody Allen in all his clumsiness was trying to do [in Annie Hall], but for real.”

Moving on to Nuit et Jour, he said that he’d seen it on his own in his local cinema, though he later admitted that he knew the projectionist and asked him to show it. He had

“Never seen a film with such arousing yellows. Massaging my heart, rather than playing about with my brain”.

He also thought that this film was the

“fusion she was always looking for. Avant garde and popular”,

like a mix of Golden Eighties and Toute une nuit. He denied that Akerman is at all austere as a filmmaker and said that we should all be “embarrassed” if we hadn’t seen all the retrospective films. One of the actors in Nuit et Jour is now a producer and Olaf described the films he produces as

“the worst films imaginable”.

Of course, Nuit et Jour was brilliant, an anti-romantic romantic film that also celebrates Paris.

Well, I haven’t got as far as I’d hoped, and there hasn’t been time to sort out any photo links, but now I need to depart. It looks like there’ll have to be a Flurry part two.